Trashing Litter in Maryland


The High 5 Cleanup Initiative (​Cleanup Dates)  

2024 Com​munity Grants (Keep America Beautiful® will provide grants to support the implementation of our Cigarette Litter Prevention Pro​gram, Great American Cleanup®, and MLK Community/Neighborhood Improvement programs)

Community Engagement & Restoration Grant (Funds activities such as tree plantings, rain gardens, stream cleanups, and storm drain stenciling)

Maryland resident challenges himself to collect one garbage bag of litter in each of Maryland's 24 24 hours or less. View video.

Bmore Trashpickers (Facebook page to document litter cleanup in Baltimore)

County Litter Programs

State Highway Administration's Litter Removal Program

The ABCs of Litter

Litter is the improper disposal of unwanted material.  Litter can have large and lasting effects on our communities, such as its impacts to wild-life, people, and the environment, not to mention how it makes the community look and the cost and resources it takes to pick it up.  Recent national studies show the most commonly littered item are cigarette butts.  Making up about half of littered objects found, cigarette butts can take about ten years to decompose, making them especially harmful to the environment. Other commonly littered items  include fast food wrappers, paper, aluminum, glass, and plastic containers, plastic grocery bags, among many other items we see in our rivers and along our road sides.

top 10 litter in md.jpg 

Maryland – sometimes called “America in Miniature” – bookends the Chesapeake Bay with mountains in the west and ocean in the east.  A unique state, Maryland owns the tenth most miles of coastline, while being the fifth most densely populated state, which means that litter can have heavy impacts on a variety of people and places.  Because Maryland believes in being good stewards of its resources, our litter control laws range from a $1,500 fine and possible 30 days in prison to a $30,000 fine with possible 5 years in prison. Part of MDE’s mission is to continue to educate Marylanders about the potential issues associated with litter and littering and offer ways to help mitigate its impacts.  



Major Sources of Litter

People litter both deliberately and by accident and it can come from many different places, like vehicles, pedestrians, or construction sites, among other sources.  Below are key findings about sources of litter, from a variety of studies.

Motorists and Pedestrians -- Motorists (52.2%) and pedestrians (17.5%) cause nearly 70% of litter along roads and highways.  The improper securing of truck or cargo loads, including collection vehicles, represent 20.7% of roadway litter. Vehicle debris and improperly secured containers, dumpsters, trash cans or residential waste/recycling bins represent another 8.1% of litter.  

The Maryland Department of Transportation State Highway Administration (MDOT SHA), removes over 2 million pounds of litter along our state-maintained roads each year at a cost of more than $8 million in tax payer’s money .  MDOT SHA litter removal forces are supplemented by inmate crews, contractors, and other programs but, without everyone pitching in to help, it’s still a challenge to keep Maryland clean.

Construction and demolition (C&D) -- C&D materials are generated during the building, renovating, and demolition of structures.  A Sustainable Materials Management (SMM) approach identifies C&D materials to be used in new building projects thus minimizing materials that would be disposed, and possibly littered, and minimizing the use of new construction materials.

Loading Docks -- 85% of litter at loading docks is from loading and unloading goods.(3)  Shrink wrap, corrugated boxes, shipping documents, drink containers, fast food packaging and tobacco products and packaging are typical loading dock trash items.

Truck Loads -- Unsecured or improperly secured loads can release loose materials. Air pressure increases as trucks drive faster and loose materials can be blown off truck beds. Roads to landfills are often easy to follow because of all the litter along the road.

Impacts of Litter

Litter physically alters habitats, is harbinger of harmful pollutants and toxic substances, and creates an eyesore to the environment.

Great Pacific Garbage Patch Infographic about garbage in the ocean ... 

Litter can pose a health risk as well as a safety risk when debris from vehicles is not properly secured.

Animals can be trapped, hurt, or strangled by litter.  Animals may eat litter that can cause an inability to ingest food or cause blockages in their digestive tracks.  Entrapment in litter can cause an animal to suffocate or drown, or could prevent an animal from catching food and avoiding predators.


Litter can bring with it many risks, such as fire, human health, and indirect health hazards from bacteria, rats, roaches, mosquitoes and other critters attracted to litter.  Germs, bacteria, and viruses can also be found where there’s litter.  Some germs can have a devastating effect on farms and livestock, if cattle ingests tainted litter for instance.


Litter can have damaging economic impacts on a community.  Just considering its heavy direct impacts, as private businesses, state and local governments, non-profits, and volunteer groups, to name a few, dedicate money, time, people, and other resources to pick-up litter. According to a 2009 Keep America Beautiful study, nationally over $11 billion is spent annually on litter cleanup.

Indirect costs of litter can also have heavy impacts to a community.  Litter can make an area less appealing to tourism or business development.  Litter in waterways can impact our waterways, and recreation or related businesses like fishing, crabbing, and boating, and associated jobs.  Unsightly litter may also cause disinterest in visiting a particular area or can hamper economic development of an area. Additionally, according to National Homebuilders’ Association, litter can even reduce property values of a community.

Why Do People Litter

Studies done over the years show that littering is related to peoples’ attitudes.  For instance, if a place has excessive litter, people are more apt to litter themselves.  Also, a person might litter because it’s more convenient to just drop something instead of finding a proper trash receptacle.  Also, age is an important factor.  Young people are more likely to litter than an older person.  Another important factor are the ‘unwritten rules’ in your community,  Basically, if people in your community think it’s important to not litter, people won’t be as likely to litter – even if a proper receptacle isn’t handy.

Making a D​ifference 

Reducing litter is a three-step process:
  • Be a good example and stop littering
  • Pick up litter when you see it, and
  • Report when someone else litters.
Maryland Department of Natural Resources Storm Drain Stenciling  -- Stenciling storm drains in your community may encourage people to dispose of trash properly and keep trash out of the drains and the Chesapeake Bay.

Keep Maryland Beautiful -- Keep Maryland Beautiful is a statewide effort focusing on increasing litter removal, greening initiatives, and citizen stewardship to work toward a common vision that all Maryland communities will be clean, green, and beautiful.

Keep America Beautiful -- The organization believes in the shared American responsibility to build and maintain clean, green, and beautiful spaces.

Trash Free I​ni​tiative -- seeks to prevent litter and the negative impacts of trash on our water. We work throughout the Potomac River watershed with a focus on the DC metro region and partner with citizens, local governments and community organizations to take action for clean land, safe water and healthy lives.

Woodsy Owl (1971) Original Vintage Poster– Authentic Vintage Posters 

Keep America Beautiful-1970s PSA Commercial

Mr. Trash Wheel -- Mr. Trash Wheel is a semi-autonomous trash interceptor that is placed at the end of a river, stream or other outfall.  Far too lazy to chase trash around the ocean, Mr. Trash Wheel stays put and waits for the waste to flow to him.  Sustainably powered and built to withstand the biggest storms, Mr. Trash Wheel uses a unique blend of solar and hydro power to pull hundreds of tons of trash out of the water each year.  View a video of Mr. Trash Wheel here.

Mr. Trash Wheel sets Guinness World Record for Most Floating Debris Removed by a Trash Interceptor in One Month.”


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